Unsure what personality to give your character? No problem then. Don’t give him one. That’s not the type of mentality I like seeing any a story, but that’s the type of approach I’m seeing more often in them. Main characters just not acting like main characters.
I have high regards for about characters’ personalities in a story. In my opinion they constitute greatly what keeps a story together by creating atmosphere, connections between characters, and attract the audience’s attention with their personal stories. I always look for elements in a show that would keep me entertained. If one fails, there’s another element, if that one fails then there’s another element. In short, there should be something that keeps the viewer engaged in a story. Having a strong lead (in the sense of how interesting he or she is) guarantees a strong start and also guarantees to keep that as much as it can. It’s a good thing. I’d say it’s a great thing for the main character to interact and get involved with the story and the events happening within it. When the opposite happens and main leads don’t behave like main characters they disrupt the flow of the story creating this disconnection between the main character, the story and the audience to a point the audience questions whether this character is supposed to the star of the story or we are all still waiting patiently for the star of the show to get on stage.
I’m severely bothered by this formula (to call it that) where stories carry on in such dry and uninspired fashion and be certain they would work. Is it because it works? Is it because the audience accepts it? I’m inclined to believe there should be an intention to make either the story or its characters to be unique, easy to relate or, to use a broad term, “appealing”. If this isn’t the case then the creators should find the character’s own niche and be daring about it. Ideally, both the story and its main character should be on par to create an equally engaging show. These are the ambitions I believe any show should have.
After watching Kamisama no Memo-chou I was significantly reminded of the common trend of having passive characters with limited or zero personality as main characters. The first and foremost impression I had that of Kamisama no Memou-chou was similar to the same impression I had of other shows where they are badly in need of a real lead. The reaction was so strong it wouldn’t be that far-fetched to think that even if such leads were to be kidnapped and replaced by mannequins and hardly anyone would take notice. That bad.
So there’s the question of whether a character has a dull, weak, or simply lacks a personality to begin with. Is that possible? Possibly. To explain further the problem isn’t that the character has a terrible personality and with difficulty he or she will become a favorite character. It is understandable if the character doesn’t have an intriguing personality as one could figure it was poorly designed in the first place and the plot does little to turn this character into a memorable lead resulting into a forgettable character. To put this notion more strongly, I think it’s downright asinine to have a character who doesn’t act the part of the main character of a story and it is a disservice to the audience. The audience watches a show to be immersed in its world, to see what type of story it is, to witness the events in this character’s life unfold thus becoming interested in his or her story which the main story revolves around. Because that’s what it comes down to because it is a story about those characters. That is the role of a main character of a story.
The lack of personality in main characters is fairly common among leads and usually it is compensated by plot itself when played right. Shichika from Katanagatari is a great offender for being one-dimensional to a painful fault for roughly ¾ of the story. He has no reason to fight, he does not think or let other thoughts disturb him, his resolution does not waver, but that’s because he lacks a personality or believes in anything to begin with. For anyone new to a story like this and expecting the lead to act the part you can see how this can pose a problem. It is a even a bigger problem when the lead character’s growth happens to be fairly slow. For everything it did right, Katanagatari did wrong concerning its lead since he was never a strong point of the series until the very end which by that time anyone not feeling the show had jumped the ship months ago.
Far from being a perfect example of lack of personality in a story, Katanagatari gets away with such strong usage of lack of personality by giving a reason why the lead has a valid reason to be devoid of a personality. What Katanagatari is a better example of is how it is possible and common for the main character of a story to not be particularly or mandatory for a lead to be fully involved in the story to be in it. It’s disconcerting how a *main* character (note) *main* can have so little direct involvement in a show where he or she IS the main attraction. Characters with passive, dull, and zero personalities rank low on the scale of good characters for a story. It is a matter of concern when because of their lack of personality antagonists and supporting characters become more likeable than main characters in a story. Isn’t that just off? It is even more strange how passive main characters can be allowed to remain idle until the very end, that is, assuming they eventually reach that level by themselves.
In a lesser degree than Katanagatari [C] The Money of Soul and the Possibility of Control also suffers from having a lead with a very poor personality. All of this is a main character issue in these stories and how having little to no personality is more popular than it should. To quote myself in this post I referred to Kimimaru as someone “the audience should not be bothered by how passive he was.” That is in nutshell his performance in [C]. As much as I enjoyed [C] the insecure and almost non-existent role of the lead when it came to taking decisions took a heavy toll on my final impressions of the show. Kimimaru is the type of main lead like others in the same tier who even though they are part of greater part of the story and are involved in the story because of their role as main characters they do not choose to willingly participate in the story. Even when they DO participate in the story and are seemingly willingly to do it they still lack the conviction to make their personal actions matter as if expecting for the others characters to tell them what they should do next. They are, to put it metaphorically, like autumn leaves in a windy day – always being blown and swept away.
Main characters such as these lack an edge as alone they look and more importantly feel insipid because of the plain character structure used to create them. They are very one-dimensional. There’s no passion. There’s no feeling. They lack what leads should have. Whether they are easy to relate or not isn’t the big issue, the issue is rather how inactive main characters in a story can actually be despite their role as main characters. In the long run it affects the structure of the plot. Admittedly, it is part of the character growth for the character to reach the level the story wants its lead to obtain by the end of the journey, however it’s another matter to have a main character lack a personality so severely and use this method as if it was strong approach to creating remotely memorable characters.
The lack of an actual lead detracts from the positive and exciting experience of watching a show about the story about their lives. It’s difficult to enjoy a story where the characters is hardly present. It’s difficult to have interest in a show where the main characters move from A to B to C and in none of them the character engages in meaningful conversations and events on his own. The impression I have of such shows is that: this show has no main character whatsoever. It lacks one as it has not being created yet.
Stories with limited or zero personality leads are part of a passive approach where the leads are unaware. Unaware they are the stars of the story and that their lives are the main attraction of the show which keep the audience engaged. There is little effort put in creating these characters for these stories with nonchalant attitude where it seems that after several unsuccessful tries the authors opted for not giving their leads actual personalities. The result is less than attractive. It is a bland character who won’t stand up for himself, who won’t stand out in the story possessing a pallid personality lacking of neither positive nor negative demeanors. To say the least this character is insipid in nature. Being dislikable would be valid. Being exasperating would be valid. Being the most negative traits or most positive ones would be certainly valid because they are still within the possible personalities for character to have because that would actually mean they have one.
The hear of the matter in having main characters with little to no personality is how these stories carry on in such a poor way where the lead has limited impacts on the events and all the key events have no explanation expecting the twists to unfold by themselves. All of these while the audience is questioning who exactly the lead of the story was and why this character continues to remain idle all times until later on in the story, that is, should the character stop being invisible and become transparent and at some point get some colors. And also ask themselves the biggest question: why don’t they step aside for another lead to take over? No matter how overused this approach is used it doesn’t get any better when the motivation to continue watching a show is slowly drained away by the idleness of the main character and their vapid personalities. Here is my question to all the creators of such characters. Answer this anime: These characters don’t care. Why should the audience? Hey, you main character who hasn’t realized you’re one yet. Wake up. You’re the star of your show. Start acting like one.
For all the disagreements between what constitute great and terrible characters they all have something going for them because I’ll say one thing in their defence: At least they have a personality. We’ll have to ask the authors next time there’s a new project and offhandedly ask them what they have in mind for their characters because when it comes to creating a story having zero personality characters is all the rage. Do we really like them that much?